As I look back on 2014, I feel thankful for the many blessings in my life. Some I take for granted. Others — such as the opportunity to have this conversation with you — I don’t.
Jerri writes, “I have had discussions with people for years on possessives and plurals. Here’s an example: The Martins and the Johnsons went out for dinner. Holiday greetings from the Martins. I maintain they are plural. My husband maintains they need an apostrophe.”
I hesitate to take sides in a marital dispute, Jerri, but you’re right. The Martins and the Johnsons are being used as plurals here and so should be spelled without apostrophes. But note the apostrophe in “Let’s have dinner at the Martins’ ” which is short for “the Martins’ house.”
Lou Ann writes, “Please write about the word with. So many TV news people use this word at the end of a sentence.”
What a terrible word to end a sentence with.
On the other hand, English prepositions, unlike Latin prepositions, do sometimes fall naturally at the end of a sentence, as in “What are you looking for?” which you would have to agree is preferable to “For what are you looking?” and certainly better than “For what searcheth thou?”
Still, you have a point, Lou Ann. Concluding prepositions are sometimes unnecessary, as in “Where is the library at?” and some sentences can be recast to avoid them, as in “With is a terrible word to place at the end of a sentence.” And then there’s that peculiar Minnesota idiom, “Do you want to come with?” which probably comes from two early immigrant groups, German (“Kommst du mit?”) and Swedish (“Vill du komma med?”).
Tony, who is on the Archives Committee of his church, writes to tell me about a letter from an early 20th century missionary in India, which said, “The natives have been clambering for an additional missionary.”
Clambering? Clamoring? What’s the difference? Who cares?
Tony does. I do. You do.
As for those folks clambering for another missionary, maybe they were hoping to find one in a tree or at the top of a cliff.
I’m thrilled to be able to share these exchanges with you. To do so is a gift this newspaper has given me, and for that I am thankful. We write not just to convey information, to make a point or to make a sale. We also write to express ourselves, to create something worth sharing.
As I write this column, Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss’ version of the Quaker song “Simple Gifts” is playing on my laptop. Maybe that’s what it comes down to. Setting aside the complexities of life — setting aside new technologies, the things that divide us as a country, the problems that threaten our lovely planet — and getting back to the simple things in life.
’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.
And what a simple but powerful gift is language. It’s a gift we should never take for granted.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.